The Hybridity of Terrorism
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In recent decades, as the incidence and deadliness of terrorism have grown, so too has the academic literature on the causes, nature, and consequences of the phenomenon. In The Hybridity of Terrorism, Sebastian Wojciechowski proposes a new lens through which to understand terrorism. Breaking it down into several constituent parts (subject, actors, forms, causes, spaces, and features), each of which is the subject of one chapter, Wojciechowski argues persuasively that terrorism cannot be explained or understood—and therefore combated—without appreciating its complexity, and the extent to which it is driven by interactions between diverse forces, milieus and actors.
Wojciechowski’s work draws significantly on that of other authors who have remarked that one-dimensional analyses of terrorism—including terrorist actor “profiles,” mono-causal theories of the roots of terrorism, and even the various proposed definitions of terrorism—fail individually to cover more than a fraction of its actual incidence. Martha Crenshaw, Audrey Cronin, Bruce Hoffman, and David Rapoport, among others, have made arguments to this effect. However, while these authors tended to emphasise the complexity of one aspect of terrorism in particular—its causes, say—Wojciechowski sets himself a much more ambitious task. He aims to elucidate the complexity of terrorism along a whole multitude of dimensions, a task manifestly too big for one book. Take two chapters as an illustration. Chapter II represents terrorism as a manifestation of relations between actors and their environment, and proposes chaos theory, decision theory, spatial competition theory, salience theory, exchange theory, black box theory, theory of disaster, expected utility theory, and topology methods, among others, as possible methods of understanding these relations (pp. 75-81). Chapter VI, by contrast, considers terrorism as a series of “features” that can exhibit positive and negative traits, horizontal and vertical dimensions, calculated and spontaneous aspects, broad and narrow features, and an evolutionary as well as a constant character (pp. 153-156).
The reader cannot help but wonder how these rather disparate ideas are connected. In total throughout the six chapters (plus an introduction and a conclusion) the author proposes dozens of ways of interpreting, classifying and understanding terrorism, without developing clear links between them, or explaining when, or if, the theories he outlines obtain empirically. As a result, the overly ambitious scope of the project generates confusion and a lack of clarity with respect to the most salient aspects of terrorism as a research subject. It is uncertain whether, and in what ways, the various schemas proposed throughout the seven chapters relate to each other.
This lack of clarity, fortunately, does not negate the book’s many positive aspects. One of the book’s most important contributions is its excellent compilation of the literature in each domain of the study of terrorism, from the nature of its practitioners, to its historical evolution, to its very definition. The author provides in each chapter a quite thorough review of the relevant literature, including useful perspectives other than those written by the usual British and American suspects (though he does not neglect the latter). Another positive feature of Wojciechowski’s work is his ability to see innovative possibilities for future research projects, such as exploring the distinct integrational and disintegrational aspects of terrorism (p. 158).
In general, this book is most valuable when read as a roadmap for the study of terrorism. It provides a meticulous treatment of the main theories and methodologies used in terrorism studies, and proposes novel ways of bringing together approaches, including some from other disciplines, in order to generate (future) insights about the phenomenon. Yet despite claiming to make progress toward a better understanding of what terrorism is and what drives it, the author largely leaves this task to others. Perhaps as a consequence of the enormity of the project he takes on, Wojciechowski’s book largely consists of summations of past research, peppered with interesting ideas for future research, but few original substantive conclusions. Nevertheless, a broad audience, including laypersons as well as policymakers and scholars, will find Wojciechowski’s book useful both as a primer on the topic of terrorism, and as a source of promising ideas for future research projects.